Hamilton’s mayoral candidates debate presented by the Hamilton-Halton Construction Association (HHCA) and partners featured a clash between a younger business advocate who said he was “sick and tired of beating my head against the wall at city hall” versus a veteran of provincial and municipal political wars who asserted “change happens with experienced leadership.”

Keanin Loomis, a first-time candidate who resigned as CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce to run for mayor, faced off against former Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in a Sept. 27 event convened by the HamiltoNEXT coalition. Co-presenters with the HHCA were the West End Home Builders Association and the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. The topics on the table were jobs, public and private sector investment, infrastructure and transportation, housing, respecting tax dollars, and sustainability and climate resilience.

Loomis and Horwath are perceived as two of the three front-runners in the race along with former city councillor and Liberal MP Bob Bratina.

Bratina, it was announced at the debate, has contracted COVID and could not attend, instead submitting written responses to questions.

The discussion was cordial but Loomis did not hesitate to take aim at his main competitors as part of a generation of political leaders who had squabbled on the LRT and otherwise were allegedly responsible for Hamilton’s failure to capitalize on economic opportunities.

“How much better we could be if we had great leadership in that building,” he said about City Hall. “We’re just not going to get there electing career politicians. More of the same will lead to more of the same and we just can’t afford it at this critical period in our history.”

Later he said, “What we need at this moment is real generational change.”

Horwath, who served three terms as Hamilton city councillor before switching to provincial politics in 2004, suggested her knowledge of the issues and ability to collaborate would stand her in good stead as Hamilton took steps to achieve “greatness.”

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“I firmly believe that many of those things will be achieved by the people sitting in this very room this morning,” said Horwath. “I know you’ve been doing a lot of collaboration already. I think it’s clear that we need to do more of that and we need to find the ways forward to make a difference for everyday people as well as business investment.”

Loomis and Horwath said they were big believers in Hamilton’s LRT project. Horwath said the LRT “absolutely will transform our city, but we have to also make sure that we are creating opportunities for other parts of Hamilton.”

Loomis claimed to have played a role in resurrecting the project after the provincial government had scrapped it.

First and foremost, LRT is the most important project that Hamilton has ever had,” he said.

Not only is it a transit solution, he said, and not only does it represent an opportunity to modernize all the infrastructure along the 14-kilometre corridor, “but it also indicates what type of city we want to be. It allows us to be the very ambitious city that we once were and we need to be again.”

Bratina was a notable opponent of the LRT project and he declined to mention the project in his written response to a question on infrastructure, transit and transportation.

“The movement of goods is a critical issue,” Bratina wrote. “There are two significant gaps thanks to poor planning. Hamilton should have completed the perimeter road to take traffic from east Burlington Street through to the 403 around Aldershot. This would have taken pressure off of our roadways.

“The other missing piece is the mid-peninsula highway which I will advocate for with the Ford government.”

Loomis said due to Hamilton council incompetence, the city is at the end of a 10-year traffic plan with “almost nothing to show for it.”

Loomis said Hamilton should soon move on getting the proposed A-line built along James Street and up the escarpment; the city should be advocating for GO transit expansion and get the Confederation GO station constructed; and it should stop “kicking the can” on area rating with rural communities being asked to contribute more for expanded transit.

Horwath commented that Loomis was a recent convert on area rating. Further on the topic of commitment, she said her collaboration skills would help the private sector create jobs in Hamilton.

“Government has a role to play in making sure that the pieces that you need for approvals or for permits and those kinds of things are easy to get and don’t slow you down,” said Horwath.

“What we have in the city is the lack of understanding or commitment to doing the things necessary to give you the opportunities to do the work that you need to do…And it’s not just about homebuilding and housing. It’s about pretty much everything when it comes to businesses in this city.”

Loomis said he is the only candidate with a plan on housing – he has pledged to get 50,000 units built. In part, his plan would involve modernizing municipal zoning laws to speed up building and renewing residential zoning bylaws to enable the construction of townhomes, duplexes, triplexes and in-law suites as of right.

Horwath said she would continue to advocate not only for affordable housing but for “missing middle” housing.

Bratina’s written comment on housing suggested Hamilton must look at surplus land and identify solutions for creating density while maintaining the character and integrity of its neighbourhoods.

“In addition to this,” he added, “we need to zone the LRT corridor for 30 per cent affordable housing.”

Loomis and Horwath said they would spend a lot more on Hamilton’s economic development department.

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What causes generational change?

There are six different generations currently living in this country: the Greatest Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Generation gaps are caused by increased life expectancy, rapid changes in society, and the mobility of society.